Franz Kafka, photo
Kafka, Franz, b. Prague (Czech Republic), July 3, 1883, d. Kierling (municipality of Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria), June 3, 1924, writer, one of the most important German-speaking prose authors of the 20th century: Studied law at the University of Prague, then worked as insurance lawyer for the Prague insurance agency Arbeiter-Unfall-Versicherungs-Anstalt (1922 retirement). From 1902 close friendship with M. Brod, together they visited the literary salons of Prague, among their friends were G. Meyrink, E. Weiß and F. Werfel. Brod supported K. in his literary work, who was very much oppressed by his authoritarian father's lack of understanding and the bureaucratical narrowness of his occupation ("Brief an den Vater", 1919).
When he fell ill with tuberculosis in 1917, K. at last had time to write. Two testamentary dispositions that the hand-written manuscripts in his estate be destroyed were disregarded by Brod; he published the unfinished novels "Der Prozeß" (1925, written in 1914/15; tr. The Trial), "Das Schloß" (1926, written in 1922; tr. The Castle) and "Amerika" (1927; tr. America; started by K. with the title "Der Verschollene" in 1911-1914, first chapter "Der Heizer" published in 1913) and the "Gesammelte Schriften" (7 vols., 1935-1937, with biographie by M. Brod), thereby initiating the worldwide recognition of K.'s work. Brod´s notes interpret K.´s works from a theological perspective.
Although hardly appreciated during his lifetime, K. succeeded as hardly any other writer of his time in depicting the threat to individuals resulting from an increasingly technicised and anonymous bureaucratic world. In unpretentious and precise language he portrays the fates of "heroes" surrounded by a cynical environment which confuses them and reduces them to absurd helplessness and impotence, and makes them fail tragically despite their own desperate efforts. In a way these portraits are a reversal of the classic Bildungsroman, the novel of educational development. K. adopts motifs of the Jewish and Christian religion, sin and atonement, sacrifice and salvation, and describes in his artistic narratives and parables the intrusion of irrational power into daily life ("Die Verwandlung", 1916; tr. The Metamorphosis). The adjective "kafkaesque", which describes such grotesque and absurd situations, can be found in most languages of the western world.
Further works: short prose and narratives: Die Aeroplane in Brescia, in: Bohemia 82, Nr. 269, 1909; Betrachtung, 1913; In der Strafkolonie, 1919; Ein Landarzt. Kleine Erzählungen, 1919; Ein Hungerkünstler. Vier Geschichten, 1924. - Diaries and letters: Tagebücher 1910-23, ed. by W. Haas, 1951; Briefe an Milena, ed. by W. Haas 1952 (enlarged edition, ed. by J. Born and M. Müller, 1983); letters to Felice, including correspondence from the time of their engagement, ed. by F. Heller and J. Born, 1967; letters to Ottla and the family, ed. by H. Binder and K. Wagenbach, 1974; letters to his parents from 1922-24, ed. by J. Cermák and M. Svatos, 1990. - Krit. Ausgabe der Werke, 12 vols., ed. by J. Born et al., 1983-1993; Kritische Ausgabe der Briefe, ed. by H. G. Koch, 1999ff.; Hist.-krit. Ausgabe sämtlicher Handschriften, Drucke und Typoskripte, ed.by R. Reuß and P. Staengle, 1995ff.
Literature: K. Wagenbach, F. K., 1966; H. Binder (ed.), K.-Handbuch, 2 vols., 1979; W. Schmidt-Dengler (ed.), Was bleibt von F. K.? Positionsbestimmung, 1985; M. I. Caputo-Mayr and J. M. Herz, Eine kommentierte Bibliographie der Sekundärliteratur, 1987; K. Wagenbach, F. K. Ein Leben in Bildern, 1989; T. Anz, F. K., 1989; F. K., Special Edition "Text und Kritik", 1994; M. L. Caputo-Mayr, F. K., 2 vols., 2000 (vol. 1: Bibliographie der Primärlit. 1908-1997, vol. 2: Bibliographie der Sekundärlit. 1955-1997).